THE MORNING AFTER THE NIGHT BEFORE

 

by W.M. Achrya

 

Originally written for the Rickman_PicsandFics Snape's birthday challenge: “Snape meets another Rickman movie character”, January 2008

Eli Michaelson is Alan Rickman's character in "Nobel Son", http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0483756/

 

 

Eli Michaelson rolled over onto his back with a groan, and almost fell off the couch.

“Couch?” he thought. “What the fuck... Where’s my bed?”

Then he remembered.

Extended family. Never again.

And certainly not for New Year’s Eve.

Last night’s hosts had been some distant relatives, the party had included decent drink, passable food, and an indecent number of thoroughly non-passable under-age cousins, nephews, nieces, what-not. 

 

The last thing he remembered was having wandered off with a pint-sized snifter in his hand, and a friendly-looking bottle of vintage Christian Drouin Calvados under his arm. He found a bean bag chair in what looked like some young nephews’ play room, poured half an inch of calvados in the bottom of the huge glass, and picked up the top book from the pile on the floor next to him. He’d always liked adventure and fantasy novels. He was deepening his acquaintance with Monsieur Drouin and reading about a black-haired, big-nosed wizard brewing some absurd but useful-sounding potion, when he fell asleep.

 

--- --- ---

 

Eli was not in the distant nephew’s play room any more.

He heard a door open and close, quiet but determined steps, a faint rustle of clothes.

Then a low voice said:

“Who are you, how did you get here, and why should I not blast you into Oblivion?”

 

Eli tipped his head up and rolled his eyes in order to look at the speaker.

He saw a tall man, about his own age and build, but with bluish black hair inexpertly chopped off at collar length, wearing some sort of black academic robes. The man’s right hand was pointing a dark, slender piece of wood at Eli. A ... wand??? The fingers of his left hand moved in a simple, fluid pattern, and a book slipped out of its place on a shelf, flew through the air and settled in the man’s hand.

“Right. This is what I came here for,” he noted. He took a few steps towards the couch, lowered the wand and looked down at Eli.

“Now, about you,” he said. His black eyes scrutinised Eli like a preparation under a microscope.

“Professor Snape,” murmured Eli.

“Yes,” the potions master said, not batting an eye. “You have me at a disadvantage.”

The statement sounded matter-of-fact, but Eli thought he sensed a threatening under-tone.

He squirmed.

“Eli Michaelson,” he croaked.

The attempt at speech made him cough, and he squirmed again.

“Don’t piss on my furniture,” Snape noticed his discomfort. He pointed with his chin: “Toilet and bath is through there, straight ahead.”

Snape stepped away to give Eli space to move, and watched impassively, with his arms folded across his chest, as Eli rolled up from the couch and staggered towards the door.  

It led into a dark, narrow hallway that might have other doors leading out of it, but only the one straight ahead interested Eli. 

 

--- --- ---

 

His bladder appeased, and his dehydration relieved from the cold water faucet in the bathroom, Eli was able to take in more of his surroundings. The hallway seemed smaller than it was, because it was literally wallpapered with bookshelves. There were books everywhere, floor to ceiling, even over the four doors that opened from the small room. If he could only see... Eli groped for a light switch, and found none.

Oh, yes. This was supposed to be a magical place. Let’s see... magic...

Feeling infinitely silly, he murmured under his breath:

“Fiat lux.”

 

And there was light.

And he was in a treasure cave.

As far as Eli could tell, the small room was crowded with tomes from the times before alchemy and chemistry went their separate ways. His head was spinning, not just from the after-effects of alcohol, and he felt an urge to fall to his knees. He pulled out a handkerchief, rubbed his palms and reached out a shaking hand at random. Judging by its spine, the book might be a couple of hundred years old. Eli tipped it gently, pulled it out from its row and opened it.

His Latin was no-where near good enough, but he recognised the alchemical symbols, and he did know a few things about old books. He found the frontispiece: the author was a certain “Stephanus Princeps”. Stephen Prince. The Prince family. The Half-Blood Prince. Right.

Eli deciphered the Roman numerals. MDLXXVIII. 1578.

He stared at the volume in his hand, hardly daring to breathe.

 

“Now what?” said a voice behind him.

Snape was looking at him from the living-room door.

“This is...” stammered Eli. “I can’t believe it. You see... I’m a chemist.”

Nothing.

“A Nobel Laureate in chemistry,” Eli added.

“Hm.” Snape observed him through narrowed eyes. Then he said:

“Put that back for now, and come in here.”

 

In the living room, Snape pointed to a high-backed chair by the fireplace.

“Sit,” he said.

Dazed in equal parts by the hangover and the experience of obviously being inside a children’s book, Eli complied.

Snape stepped closer, raising his wand, its tip ablaze with white light.
Eli flinched away, but Snape’s strong fingers held his chin steady.

“Don’t squirm,” said the potions master.

He turned Eli’s face this way and that, scrutinising it, the wand almost – but not quite – touching Eli’s skin in a few places. Eli’s hands clutched the arms of the chair, and Snape’s lips curved derisively when he noticed the grip. He made no comment, just pulled down each of Eli’s lower eye-lids in turn, and concluded his examination. Then he turned towards a work bench against one of the walls; there were some subdued clinks of glass and a few splashes of liquid. 

“Stomach trouble?” Snape asked Eli over his shoulder.

“Well... Not really. Just what could be expected.”

Snape swooped about to face him.

“And what’s that supposed to mean?” he growled. “You’re a scientist. Be precise.”

He crossed the room in four strides, opened Eli’s jacket and placed a hand on his lower ribs on top of his shirt. Eli tried to twist away.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” murmured the potions master. “Just keep still, and breathe.”

Eli closed his eyes and made an effort to comply.

He could feel a purposeful, impersonal touch probing just below the edge of his ribs.

Then there were a few more steps, the familiar sound of a cut-glass plug being pulled out and replaced in the neck of a glass bottle, and of a glass rod stirring a liquid in a heat-resistant glass beaker.

 

The steps returned and something was placed on the small table next to Eli’s chair.

“Drink this,” Snape’s voice said.

Eli opened his eyes. There was a crystal goblet on the table, containing a pale blue liquid. Small bubbles rose in the liquid, as if in a glass of rather bubbly mineral water.

Eli reached for the goblet – and checked himself. Enough was enough. Whether this man was an over-age living role player, or a schizophrenic mental patient, Eli was not about to gulp down some unidentified... stuff.

 

Snape looked down at him.

“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” he shook his head.

“What?” said Eli.

“My language?” said Snape. “You know me from children’s books. Bowdlerised.”

“And as for the hangover cure,” he went on, nodding at the goblet, “I’ve no reason to poison you. You obviously know who I am. Then you should be aware that I could have killed you in any of seventeen different more-or-less painful ways, the moment I found you snoring in my living-room. However...”

He went to the work bench, and returned carrying another identical goblet and the original beaker of the blue liquid.

“Let’s do this in the established literary way.”

He sat down in another tall armchair at an angle to Eli’s, dumped the contents of the first goblet back into the beaker, and stirred the liquid with the glass rod. Holding the rod in place with a practiced grip of his index finger, he poured out two exactly equal doses in the two goblets, sat back in his chair, and nodded to Eli.

“Take your pick,” he said.

Eli reached for one of the goblets, his original one or not, he had no idea, and moved it closer to his place.

Snape picked up the remaining goblet, raised it in an ironical toast, and emptied it in three smooth swallows.

“You won’t enjoy the taste,” he said dryly. “But it will cure your hangover.”

 

The potions master stared into the flames in the fireplace while Eli gulped down his dose. The taste was sour and bitter, but the cool, effervescent liquid felt good going down, and Eli’s stomach began settling almost immediately.

After a short while his tense shoulders and neck relaxed, he was feeling more alert than he had felt in a long time, and even the ache in his head was receding.

“Ah...” he sighed with relief. “I wish something like that could work in real... in my universe.”

“I bet,” the other man sneered.

“No, I don’t mean just the hangover cure.”

“So? What exactly do you mean?”

“Administering medication perorally and having it work this fast. By the way, do your cures interact with what people eat and drink? Do they become ineffective together with certain ordinary foodstuffs?”

“No, not generally.”

“How do you do it?”

“There’s nothing to do,” explained the potions master. “It’s all in the genre conventions. Instantly efficient cures and poisons, slowed down or neutralised only if the narrative demands it. Plus, in our particular case, Ms. Rowling has no clue whatsoever about physiology.”

“Oh...”

“Are those problems in your chemistry?” inquired Snape.

“In pharmacology, really, but the two can be closely related. You see, sometimes we find substances that could make very efficient medicines, but they get broken down by the digestive system, or they work very slowly when taken through the mouth.”

“Not very practical. What other options do you have?”

“Well, there’s... rectal formulation,” said Eli, praying fervently to whatever Power was listening that Snape would understand. Fortunately, he did.

“Yes,” he nodded slowly. “The problems would be similar, with the active substance being absorbed through the intestine.”

Eli, feeling encouraged and increasingly on his own turf, continued:

“And, for faster effect, there are injections. Introducing the substance into a muscle, or straight into the blood stream, by means of a thin hollow needle.”

“Not a lay man’s method, obviously,” the potions master sounded intrigued and interested. “Apart from the actual technique, what problems do you run into there?”

“Well, mainly, the carrier,” Eli begun.

“Something to dissolve the active substance in, that’s right,” Snape caught on. “It would have to have particular properties... being non-toxic when injected, of course.”

“Yes. And not breaking down the active substance.”

By then, Snape was fascinated.

“Are you thinking of any particular type of drug? Anything you’re working on right now?”

“Yes, in fact,” said Eli, no longer caring if he was talking to an impostor or to a figment of his imagination. “There’s a new and very promising COX-2 inhibitor. It could be the solution to the cardiac toxicity problem, but it doesn’t work with any of the known carriers.”

Snape stopped him: “A COX... what?”

“A potentially very efficient pain killer. You see, there are two types of prostaglandins...”

 

Eli launched into full lecture mode, with Snape looking increasingly doubtful.

After a while, the potions master waved his hand.

“Wait, wait, wait, I don’t understand a thing. You might as well be speaking Eskimo.”

“Oh... I’m sorry,” Eli said. “I got carried away. For a while I was hoping... Sorry. It’s ridiculous.”

“Not necessarily,” Snape replied, once more scrutinising him with his jet-black eyes. “It’s a matter of finding compatible models for that particular piece of reality. I could see for myself, if you’re up to it.”

“You could... what?!?”

“It’s just as hard for me to explain as those prostaglandins are for you. Look here, I haven’t harmed you yet, so I’m probably not about to.”

“All right. So?”

“Imagine that you’re explaining that COX-2 thing to a talented first-year student.”

“And?”

“Sit back, focus on what you’re saying, and keep talking. That’s all.”

 

Eli had a creepy feeling again, but the day’s Alice-in-Wonderland mindset prevailed.

He leaned back in his chair, collected his thoughts, and began a high-school level lecture on his subject.

Snape watched him closely. After a brief moment he raised his wand slightly, unobtrusively, and murmured: “Legilimens.”

Eli’s eyes met his, and there was a deeper intake of breath as Eli began his next sentence. Otherwise, the potions master was just intently listening to the chemistry professor’s lecture.

 

--- --- ---

 

“A fascinating problem,” said the potions master.

Eli looked at him questioningly.

“I understand what you’re looking for,” Snape went on. “I’d be happy to spend some time working on it. Take my mind off... other things. Obviously I'll need more information once I get started.”

“You mean... I’d get in touch with you again?”

“It could be arranged.”

Eli only nodded.

Snape left his chair briefly, and returned with the old alchemy book that Eli had been admiring in the hall. The potions master paused to think for a moment.

“January 9th?”

“In a bit over a week, yes. What about it?”

“Would it suit you?”

“To come back? I suppose so, yes. But how? Where are we, anyway?”

“My quarters at the Hogwarts School of Wizardry. If you know me, you know the place. Leave the ‘how’ to me.”

“Why January 9th?”

Snape hesitated for a moment. Then he said:

“My birthday. Very few people know it. I don’t celebrate per se, I see no reason for celebration, but I do take some time off.”

He located a page in the book, counted the lines, and busied himself with his wand.
Then he shut the book and handed it to Eli.

“On January 9th, any time after noon, open the book on page 60 and read line 19.”

Eli looked at the book, then at Snape.

“Aloud?”

“That is not compulsory,” was the reply.

Eli put the book in a pocket of his crumpled suit jacket.

The potions master picked up something from the floor in front of the couch. It was Eli’s calvados snifter.

“This artefact should take you back home, if I’m not completely mistaken.”

He handed the glass to Eli, who took it from him, and had no time to say or do anything before...

 

--- --- ---

 

... he felt a thud, and noticed that he was lying on the floor of a room not his own, next to a bean bag chair, with a Harry Potter novel for a pillow.

He opened his eyes and got ready to groan, when he realised that he had nothing to groan about. Judging by the level of the calvados in the bottle on the floor in front of him, he should be in considerable distress, but he was not. There was no soreness, no acid stomach, no headache, even his mouth felt reasonably fresh.

 

A little dismayed at having slept in his jacket and possibly ruined one of the few suits that he felt really comfortable in, Eli Michaelson rolled over and rose to his knees. His right jacket pocket felt strangely heavy, and he reached inside it. He found a small book, apparently very old. He stood up and went to the window to look at the book in the daylight.   

 

It was a book on alchemy, including certain findings that eventually contributed to the development of modern-day chemistry. The year of publication was printed in it, in Roman numerals: MDLXXVIII.

 

The author’s name was Stephanus Princeps.

 

 

 

 

---   THE END  ---